A Man's Golden Skin Puts a Gleam in a Woman's Eye

Man eating strawberry
(Image credit: Glayan | Shutterstock.com)

For men, a healthy skin tone may be more important than "manly" facial features in making them attractive to women, according to a new study.

In the study, women rated male faces with a greater amount of golden color in their skin as more attractive compared to faces with less of this color.

In contrast, no link was found between the masculinity of the faces and their attractiveness rating, the researchers said. Typically, male faces with square jaws and stronger brows are perceived as being more masculine.

The reason for the findings, the researchers said, could be that skin tone is a more up-to-date indicator of a guy's health. While a masculine face depends on being healthy during development, it doesn't change much in adulthood, whereas skin tone is much more variable, and so may be a better signal of a man's current potential as a mate.

"Our study shows that being healthy may be the best way for men to look attractive," said study researcher Ian Stephen, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. "We know that you can achieve a more healthy looking skin color by eating more fruit and vegetables, so that would be a good start," Stephen said.

Now there's motivation to eat your "five servings a day."

Some fruits and vegetables contain pigments called carotenoids, which are thought to increase the amount of yellowness (or goldenness) in skin tone, the researchers said. Subtle changes in skin tone can be seen within days of changing the diet, they said.

The researchers took photographs under carefully controlled conditions of 34 Caucasian males from a university in Scotland, and 41 black African males from a university in South Africa. The researchers measured participants' skin colors, and calculated their facial "masculinity" with a mathematical formula used in this type of research.

Women rated the attractiveness of the photographs on a scale of 1 to 7.

For both ethnic groups, guys with more yellowness in their skin were rated as more attractive. The link was strongest when women were rating men of their own ethic group. This may be because women are more familiar with the skin color of their own ethnic group, and can more easily spot subtle changes in skin color among faces of their group.

The findings don't mean you should aspire to have a Homer Simpson-like hue. It is possible to over do it on the carotenoids, by eating too many carrots and other vegetables with lots of beta carotene, and develop a condition called called carotenemia. The condition is mostly harmless, but can cause you to turn a noticably yellow or orange color.

"It would be very difficult to go too yellow from eating a balanced diet," Stephen told MyHealthNewsDaily.

In addition, too much yellow in the skin can be a sign of certain diseases, including jaundice, and "and would not look healthy," Stephen said.

The study was published online Jan. 9 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Pass it on: Eating more fruits and vegetables may increase the "golden" color in the skin, making a man appear more attractive, a study suggests.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.